Water fight not over

LIHUE — A proposed measure in the state House aiming to change the state’s water-use permitting system passed through a committee hearing on Friday, and the hearing’s public testimony threw the spotlight onto Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

Supporters say it could speed up the process for entities to land a water lease, but opponents point out concerns it could trigger an influx of water permits and a loophole for requirements like obtaining an environmental assessment.

For KIUC, the measure comes at a good time in their process to secure a long-term lease for the use of water from the Blue Hole diversion on Kauai.

“We are in the final stages of compiling the lease application for presentation to the Board of Land and Natural Resources, however it will be challenging to complete this process during the calendar year of 2019,” said KIUC President and CEO David Bissell in testimony about the measure.

He continued: “With the extension that this measure proposes, all remaining activities can be completed with the proper due diligence.”

Permits allowing KIUC to use the water from the Blue Hole diversion on Kauai started in 2003 with the entity securing a revocable permit for the purpose of providing hydropower.

In 2004, KIUC applied for a long-term lease for the use of the Blue Hole diversion water and, since then, has been working with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, state Commission on Water Resources Management, state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and other entities to fulfill requirements of the lease-application process.

Some of those requirements were laid down in 2017 and 2018 and said KIUC had to return water to the streams below the diversions.

“KIUC has complied with conditions placed on its revocable-permit holdovers,” Bissell said. “In addition, KIUC has conducted numerous environmental and cultural studies and is actively working on an environmental disclosure document.”

There are a few more details left to do in order to complete the BLNR lease application, Bissell said. One of those is for the DLNR’s Land Division and Division of Forestry and Wildlife to discuss lease rates and watershed-management contributions.

Anne Fredrick, representing the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, said the organization opposes the measure.

“(This measure) perpetuates the use of water for exporting and allows for the indefinite expansion of water permits for unlimited water for undefined purposes,” Fredrick said.

She and other representatives from HAPA said there isn’t an equitable sharing of water to support area ecosystems, large-scale agriculture, other farmers, renewable energy and cultural practices.

Too much of Waialeale Stream’s baseflow has been diverted for too long without assessing environmental and cultural impacts, HAPA alleges.

Representatives from East Kauai Water Users Cooperative pointed out the measure is primarily aimed at Maui, where more than 41,000 acres of Alexander &Baldwin agricultural farm land was sold after sugar production concluded on the island after 150 years.

But, the measure would impact water systems throughout the state.

“Once this goes (the current water-permit system), it’s hard to get back and change it,” said Gary Hooser, president of HAPA and a Kauai resident. “It’s obvious this issue is important to a lot of people on every island.”

While HB 1326 moves through the Legislature, on Kauai Bissell will be meeting with the community to talk about the Blue Hole diversion in a public meeting set for Saturday, Feb. 23.

At the meeting hosted by the Wailua-Kapaa Neighborhood Association at the Kapaa Public Library from 2 to 4 p.m., Bissell will be discussing the pending Blue Hole diversion long-term water lease for the Waiahi hydroelectric plants, public trust resources and streamflow restoration.

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Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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